Eye On Boise

Dental cuts hit Idaho Medicaid patients

Dr. Jack Fullwiler prepares to examine Jackson Miller, 14, at his Coeur d’Alene office on Wednesday. Fullwiler is concerned about the cuts in Medicaid for non-emergency dental coverage for more than 42,000 adults. (Kathy Plonka)
Dr. Jack Fullwiler prepares to examine Jackson Miller, 14, at his Coeur d’Alene office on Wednesday. Fullwiler is concerned about the cuts in Medicaid for non-emergency dental coverage for more than 42,000 adults. (Kathy Plonka)

More than 42,000 poor or disabled Idahoans lost their non-emergency dental coverage last Friday due to state budget cuts, and there's some question about whether the state's expected $1.7 million in annual savings really will pay off in the long run. "Some of this stuff, if you don't take care of it at a certain level, then it gets worse, so it can cost a lot more," said Dr. Jack Fullwiler, a longtime Coeur d'Alene dentist and current president of the Idaho State Dental Association.

Washington made a similar cut six months ago, but it exempted patients with developmental disabilities and those in long-term care from the cuts. In Idaho, all adults on Medicaid will lose non-emergency dental coverage except pregnant women. Fullwiler said Idaho dentists actually were relieved that the cuts didn't go even further. "At least we got the emergency programs for the adults," he said.

In 2002, Idaho briefly eliminated non-emergency adult dental coverage under Medicaid as part of budget cutbacks, prompting a statewide outcry after an elderly woman who was denied dentures was told she'd have to gum her food; then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and the Legislature restored the benefit the following year. Now, Fullwiler said, "I know they're not going to pay for dentures. They're going to pay for toothaches, basically." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.




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Betsy Z. Russell





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